Local News

Stephanie Bennett Civil Case Goes to Trial

Posted January 2, 2007 3:02 p.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2007 9:20 p.m. EST

— The father of a murdered woman will finally have his day in court, although the case will be in a civil court instead of a criminal one.

Stephanie Bennett was raped and killed in her north Raleigh apartment in May 2002. Drew Planten, the man charged with the crime after a three-year investigation, committed suicide in prison a year ago while awaiting trial.

Planten's death robbed the Bennett family of a chance to achieve sense of justice through the criminal courts. Her father said he hopes to obtain that justice through a civil suit against the apartment complex where she lived and was killed.

"I think she'd be proud of the fact that I'm trying to get something good out of something very bad, Carmon Bennett said.

Carmon Bennett maintains in the lawsuit that Bridgeport Apartments failed to protect his daughter from her killer. He alleges that his daughter's window failed to lock, that shrubbery around the building was too high and that there was inadequate lighting.

A prowler later identified as Planten had been seen near the apartment prior to her murder, and Bennett's attorneys said the apartment complex was aware of that fact.

"We see this as a chance for Stephanie to help someone else. If we can prevent this from happening to another person, then we've accomplished a lot of the goal," Carmon Bennett said.

Attorneys for the apartment complex said there was nothing that their clients could have done to prevent Bennett's death.

"This was not a foreseeable crime. This was committed by the criminal, and the criminal should be responsible. We don't think it would be appropriate to hold the landowner responsible in civil court for a crime they didn't commit," attorney Dan Hartzog said.

"Mr. Planten is now dead, and the case is not about him. The case is about what was known out at Bridgeport and what they chose not to do," said Charles Bentley, Bennett's attorney.

Jury selection in the case is set to begin Wednesday. About 100 witnesses are on the witness list, so the trial could take several weeks.